- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” pumps through the speakers as Agatha Daughn struts her stuff on the dance floor, Preston Brown creates a multimedia art piece in bright yellows and natural wood, and Emmett Speers leafs through a book.

Sound like a school for the creative arts? Not quite.

It’s creative — hence its name, “Creativity” — but it’s not a school. It’s a drop-in art salon in Georgetown.

Admission is free, the crafts cost $5 and up. The target audience is children up to 10 years old, although everyone is welcome.

That’s right, Preston, Agatha and Emmett are all younger than 4 years old.

“It’s a kind of ‘third place’ for kids and parents,” says Rachel Gader-Shafran, owner of the salon, which opened last summer.

“Third place” refers to a place in between home and work or school where a sense of community occurs. Starbucks — in the adult world — often is referred to as a third place.

“I opened it because I was tired of planning activities weeks in advance for my daughter Ariel. I was tired of getting ripped off. And I was tired — once I was at the pool or the community center — of not having a comfortable place to sit and no coffee in sight,” Ms. Gader-Shafran says.

So, at Creativity (www.CreativityGeorgetown.com), Ms. Gader-Shafran has created a bright-colored 2,200-square foot space where parents are welcome to bring their own coffee and snacks for the kids; sink into one of four purple comfy couches to read complementary magazines; and drop in unannounced with their kids anytime between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon and 6 p.m. on Sundays.

“Our motto is we encourage eating, drinking, running and jumping,” Ms. Gader-Shafran says.

The concept works, says 3-year-old Preston’s mom, Michelle Brown, on a recent morning.

“This is something that both kids and moms can enjoy,” says Ms. Brown, who lives on Capitol Hill and has come to Creativity with Preston at least five times in the past few months. “Especially when it’s cold outside I can’t think of a better place to spend an hour or two.”

Preston has an entire shelf at home devoted to his Creativity creations, ranging from a night light to a painted wooden toy car.

Adds her friend Katy Daughn, also of Capitol Hill and mom of 2-year-old Agatha: “This is just a nice, relaxing atmosphere, and the kids can create things while we sit and talk.”

But while admission is free, a visit to Creativity can become costly, Ms. Brown says. Parking in a Georgetown parking garage can be pricey and if the child goes for multiple crafts the total can add up quickly. That’s why she and her son don’t come daily or even weekly, she says and smiles.

“But Preston loves it here, and we come as much as we can,” she adds.

The space, which is furnished with red book shelves filled with various crafts, lime green chairs, small red tables, and lamps in the shapes of moons and sea horses, has a distinct free-play area (which doubles as a dance floor) and an arts-and-crafts area.

“It’s like a preschool environment,” says Ms. Daughn, while her daughter has moved on to hugging a green plush alligator while dancing to “I Like to Move It.”

Ivana Cavallo, mom of Francesca, 2, calls it a “cheerful place,” which is part of the reason she has picked it for her daughter’s upcoming birthday celebration. At least 60 guests are expected.

“You don’t even need a whole lot of decorations in here,” Ms. Cavallo says while daughter Francesca is busy coloring a wooden cat with pink glitter paint.

Creativity does birthdays every weekend — in fact, the birthday schedule got so packed that Ms. Gader-Shafran opened an annex a few doors down to take care of the drop-in visitors on the weekends — and assistant manager Koscina Renaurd is often on-site to set up, clean and facilitate games and crafts. Ninety-minute parties cost $15 per child — which includes a $5 craft — and require a minimum of eight children.

“The parents are very appreciative,” she says. One of the most popular games she runs during birthday parties is “freeze dance.”

There is nothing frozen, though, about Preston and Agatha. After almost two hours of creating their own hopscotch game using small, round, green mats, dancing, painting and playing catch, it’s time for a snack: lemonade and granola bars.

When they’re done, Ms. Gader-Shafran insists on cleaning up their paint and snack mess.

“That’s a really nice thing,” Ms. Brown says. “Not having to clean up.”

It’s almost noon and the space is clearing out for lunches and naps. The next rush is expected after 3 p.m. when area schools let out.

In the meantime, this city parent’s dream — a play and crafts place away from home — is quiet as Ms. Gader-Shafran fills out orders and plans for future workshops and classes, including kid yoga and science classes.

“Creativity is the incarnation of what I wanted for me and my daughter over the years but couldn’t find,” she says. “A drop-in craft space where I wouldn’t spend 10 minutes and $25 for do-it-yourself pottery.”


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